DuckTales

aaducktalesbox DuckTales NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Released: September 1989
US Cartridge ID: NES-UK-USA

Players: 1
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)

Requires Flash10

To those who grew up in 1980s America, there are few symbols of pop-culture as widely recognized and fondly recalled as DuckTales. As Disney’s first ever syndicated cartoon, DuckTales managed to permanently ingrain itself in the consciousness of a generation with its Reaganomics inspired political slant, the introduction of some of the most memorable Disney characters ever created, and a thoroughly amazing theme song that is impossible to forget after hearing just once.Duck Tales USA 1 DuckTales NES Nintendo Review Screenshot

Given the show’s popularity, it is fitting that DuckTales received its own videogame adaptation. Capcom, working in conjunction with Disney, enlisted some of its most capable talent (including several members of the Mega Man series’ development team) to produce a game that upheld the same high standard of quality as the source material, and released the game in late 1989. DuckTales went on to become Capcom’s highest grossing game ever produced for the 8-bit NES, and would serve as the gold standard for the company’s highly regarded line of Disney cartoon games that would follow.

The game follows the same general concept as the cartoon. The player assumes the role of Uncle Scrooge, a fabulously wealthy duck with dreams of further aggrandizing his already considerable fortune. When he learns the location of several priceless treasures, Scrooge knows that he must find them before his rival Flintheart Glomgold can get ahold of them, lest he lose his claim to the title “Richest Duck in the World.”

Each of these treasures can be found in one of the five stages available from the “control panel,” functionally providing a stage selection screen similar to those found in the Mega Man titles. This mechanic (later used in modified form in Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Duck Tales USA 891 DuckTales NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDarkwing Duck, and DuckTales 2) allows for a great deal of variety in both environs and in hazards posed without an excessively obtuse justification tenuously provided by an overwritten plot line.

After selecting the desired stage, Scrooge enters the area in search of a fabled treasure. Though DuckTales utilizes the same standard 2D platforming perspective as can be seen in the great majority of NES action games, its play mechanics are entirely unique to it and its sequel. Scrooge McDuck is not equipped with a gun, a tome of magic spells, nor any other projectile-based weapons: the elderly uncle uses his cane. Not content to use his walking aide for its intended purpose, Scrooge can bounce on the cane as one might a pogo-stick, using it to reach otherwise out-of-reach ledges or to kill any enemies unfortunate enough to be caught underneath of it. It can further be used as a makeshift golf club, capable of launching rocks at distant enemies and treasure chests.

Scrooge’s profound skill with this eccentric choice of tools will need to be thoroughly exploited for the player to see the adventure through to the end. The nonlinear levels encourage a great deal of exploration, as secrets abound by way of secret passages, cleverly placed items and obstacles, and hidden caches of priceless gems. While Scrooge’s primary goal is to obtain the five priceless treasures, a considerable number of diamonds and rare artifacts are littered throughout each stage. Each nook and cranny will have to be thoroughly searched in order to amass the ten million dollars required to see Duck Tales USA 192 DuckTales NES Nintendo Review Screenshotthe game’s best ending.

Several of the cartoon’s mainstays are on-hand to help Scrooge in his quest. His nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, will provide advice and hints on how to proceed through the current stage. Others, like Bubba and Ms. Beakley will provide health items, while Gizmo Duck can be called on to destroy a barrier that initially prevents Scrooge from reaching the end of the Moon stage. Launchpad can also be found in each level to offer Scrooge a flight back to the control panel.

The assortment of stages offers a refreshing amount of diversity, offering differing experiences centered on Scrooge’s cane mechanics. The Amazon will have him flying across a chasm as he clings to a rope and bouncing across spike traps while fleeing from a giant boulder (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark). The Himalayas require carefully controlled and measured bouncing, as landing on the snow while jumping with the cane will get Scrooge stuck in the ice, leaving him prone to attack by overly aggressive rabbits and Billy goats. Transylvania hosts a set of teleportation mirrors that Duck Tales USA 47 DuckTales NES Nintendo Review Screenshotprovide the only means of fully exploring the haunted mansion, the African Mines are loaded with giant pits that can only be traversed by pogoing off of the heads of enemies, and the Moon provides both a UFO and an underground cave to explore as he seeks out the fabled green cheese. The only issue with the game’s level selection lies in DuckTales’ compulsive need to make the player constantly return to the Transylvania stage, making for a disappointing moment when the player finally realizes that it was recycled to become the final stage.

In addition to these varied styles in level design, the stages’ graphical assets convincingly sell the locales. The vivid use of color make the game’s style highly evocative of the whimsical and childish feel of the television show, and the amusing enemy designs (unique to each stage) stay perfectly in character with the show’s vibe. The sound is particularly noteworthy, as DuckTales has few peers in terms of music composition quality. The cartoon’s theme song is rendered as faithfully as possible while being limited to two square waves, a triangle wave, and a white noise channel, and the Moon stage’s theme is Duck Tales USA 6 DuckTales NES Nintendo Review Screenshotstill thought by many to be the best song ever written for an NES game.

The game’s mechanics are intuitive and typically responsive, though there is a fair learning curve involved due to the novelty of the cane mechanic. Scrooge will generally react exactly as the player commands, though he will die on occasion due to the pogo-stick not working as expected. The levels are huge and provide a great many opportunities to experiment with the mechanics, however, making the rare slip of the controls only momentarily frustrating. Otherwise, the game is relatively easy by NES standards: the bosses only take five hits each to kill, and the game provides power-ups quite altruistically to those that may be struggling.

DuckTales is one of the few remarkable licensed titles to rival its source material in both quality and character. The massive, sprawling stages are a blast to explore, and the goofy humor apparent in the animation is pitch perfect. The sheer fun to be had in DuckTales gives it the same magic spark that fueled the cartoon, and it is this that makes the game just as fondly remembered as the show by fans over two decades later.

 

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